The Final Season: Yes To Instant Replay

Philadelphia 3 – Atlanta 0; CJ: 1-3

I want to talk about instant replay, if I may. Major League Baseball has, for all intents and purposes, refused to use it, as they allow it for reviewing homeruns only. This is interesting to me for a few reasons.

But before I delve into, here’s my favorite reason. It’s a single event that happened a couple years ago. The Yankees and the Rays were in the middle of beating each other up for the AL East crown. The loser would easily win the Wild Card, but, as they’re two teams that don’t exactly like each other, I think winning was important.

They were in Tampa for the series and, during one of the games, Derek Jeter was at bat. An inside pitch flew by him and, on first glance, iy appeared to hit him. He helped this ‘appearance’ by grabbing his wrist, jumping up and down, and bending over in pain – selling it, really. I say selling it because, upon looking at the replay, the ball hit his bat. It did not hit him. Did not even come close.. He was just, in that moment, a faker and a cheater. But whether his performance sold it or the umps had already determined it hit him, he was awarded first base. The manager of the Rays, Joe Maddon, went crazy. He was screaming at the ump, claiming he saw it hit the bat.

But, really, it was one tip-top acting job by the Jeter. I mean, you’d have thought his wrist was broken. So, instead of being a fair ball and he’s thrown out for the third out (when the ball hit his bat, it hit the butt of it and bounced back into fair territory), he’s standing on first and, as always happens in these situations, scores when the batter behind him (sorry I’ve forgotten your name) hits a homerun, giving the Yankees the lead.

Now, luckily for MLB, in that game the Rays came back to win or else this could have been a big deal. Or bigger deal. Because everyone and their blind dog could tell from the replay that it didn’t hit the bat. That’s right, I said replay. After the game, I remember a reporter asked Jeter where that ball hit and he said ‘The bat.’ He knew. And everybody else knew. Except the umpires.

And, truth be told, I don’t blame Jeter. He was honest about it after the fact when he said, ‘My job is to get on base, and the ump told me to go to first. I wasn’t going to tell him otherwise.’ Nor should he have to, in my opinion. You know what should tell the ump otherwise? Replay­.

When things like this happen, it just makes MLB look foolish. The whole world sees their mistake instantly, and they’re left using their memories to fight that they were right. And it’s not a knock against umpires. It’s hard to catch everything. Put me out there on a baseball diamond, and I’d get every call wrong.

That’s why replay could be there just to help umpires when they need it. I don’t think it would replace umps or anything. It’s just a back-up system, like the self-destruct button in space ships so the enemy doesn’t get all your secrets after you evacuate. You know, a fall back, like it is in, oh, every other sport out there. Tennis. Football. Basketball.

Baseball argues against it on two main points: it takes too long and it takes away the human element. Well the first one is bunk, because they used instant replay during the Little League World Series last year – that’s right, Little League – and they found the average time it took to resolve a dispute, meaning from the moment the coach questioned it to the moment the ump had a decision, was 1:52. Less than two minutes! And the actual review only took 40 something seconds. Most of the time is spent in transit. Football takes three times as long and they would never think about doing away with it. And fans don’t mind that it takes so long. They just want the call to be right. Plus, for me, I think it’s fun to sit there and argue over what you saw and what the ruling will be. So time is really not an issue.

And the human element? Please. The human element stinks. (Literally.) The human element gets things wrong all the time. That’s why we invented things like video cameras to help us get it right. Besides, when we humans make a mistake, we relish the opportunity for a do-over. And that’s all replay is. I just don’t understand why MLB wouldn’t want to get it right.

So, if you can’t tell, I’m in favor of increased usage of instant replay in MLB. I think it’s a good thing. For someone that doesn’t embrace much technology is her life, simply because I can’t be bothered, this I am in favor of embracing. This I see as having an immediate benefit, and I don’t think it would undermine umps. It doesn’t in any other sport. It supports them by helping them get it right. By helping that not be humiliated on SportsCenter and the interweb when everyone is blasting them for their missed call. They can fix their innocent mistake and move on from it.

What will it take, MLB? Will it take a call blown at the crucial moment of the World Series? When it absolutely has to be gotten right and it isn’t. Then, and only then, will you use more replay? Probably. Which doesn’t surprise me. That seems to be the reactive nature of the commissioner’s office these days, anyway.

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The Final Season: The Pennant or the World Series

Atlanta 4 – Houston 1; CJ: 1-4, 2 RBI(47), R

I’ll say it. I like the Wild Card. I do. And to think it’s only been around for 15 years. I can actually remember baseball without it, back when only four teams total made it to the playoffs. The old days when there were only two divisions in each league, East and West, and the winner’s of those two divisions met in their League Championship Series, with those winners advancing to the World Series.

Back then, winning the LCS was referred to as ‘winning the pennant’ (well, it still is, but I don’t really hear that expression as much anymore.) and that’s how the Braves made it to their first two World Series. They won the Western division of the National League. ‘But Atlanta isn’t in the West?’ you say. True. There being in the West was a holdover from when they were in Milwaukee and there hadn’t been any realignment yet. Baseball can be slow to change things, in case you hadn’t realized that. Particularly the things that make sense, like realignment and instant replay.

But, in my opinion, looking back at baseball history and the books that have been written and the movies that have been made, winning the “pennant” seemed like an almost bigger deal than winning the World Series. I could be completely making this up, but if I’m not, I have a few theories as to why this was – some absurd and some not so much.

The first is: the Yankees won the World Series so much that maybe nobody except Yankees fans cared about it. It was a bigger deal to win the right to lose to them. Just a theory. Doesn’t quite fit because that would suggest that winning the AL pennant was not a big deal, either, since it always went to the Yankees. But actually, the opposite could be true because, on those rare occasions when someone did beat the Yankees to win the pennant, it was probably a very big deal. And the prospect of knocking off the evil empire from its perch might have gotten people very excited.

But I don’t think it’s all about one team. Even the Yankees aren’t that much of a behemoth. I think part of it is because the National and American leagues never met during the regular season. So, while it was nice to be considered the best of both leagues, it might have been nicer to be considered the best team among all the other teams you’ve been fighting it out with for the past six months. Does that make sense? Let me explain….

When you play the Cubs a couple dozen times a year and you’re a Reds fan, it’s probably, in your mind, even sweeter to finish about the Cubs than the Red Sox. You have time to develop a real dislike for the teams and players you play most often. You have more history with them then you do Mickey Mantle, so beating them becomes, in a way, more fulfilling.

I also believe, where Interleague play might have taken some of that away, the imbalanced schedule that favors playing teams in your own division more than those out of it helps bring it back. I mean, I haaate the Phillies and the Mets. Really loathe them. I love beating them, and I definitely love beating them more than, say, the Rays. I don’t really have any feelings toward the Rays. (Although I might get equal satisfaction out of beating the Yankees, which kind of negates my first argument but oh well.)

Anyway, so nowadays, when announcers and analysts talk about ‘winning the pennant,’ to me it’s lost some of its meaning. I know it’s still technically a big deal to win the pennant and be crowned the League champ, but when you have division titles to play for first, as well as Wild Card races, it’s just lost some of its luster. It’s just not the same to me. (Of course, you are all free to disagree.)

But, again, I like the Wild Card, so don’t think I’m against it or the current (and upcoming) divisions. I love the idea of more playoff baseball, as well as, well it might be the only way the Braves make the playoffs this year. I also like it because there are just too many teams in baseball for only four to make the playoffs. Eight, oh excuse me, ten makes more sense when you have 30 teams.

And maybe I should consider a Wild Card win even more important than the “pennant,” when you take into account what all a team has to go through to get it. But I don’t, for whatever reason. That’s all. And when I hear announcers use that term, it hits some sort of discord in my being. And if some announcer broke out with, “The Braves win the pennant! The Braves win the pennant!” it just wouldn’t have the same meaning for me.

The Final Season: A Trip To Elysian Fields

Braves 10 – Yankees 5; CJ: DNP

Yesterday I wrote about my trip to Yankee Stadium, but when I was spending my lovely, interesting, exploratory month in New York City/Hoboken that wasn’t the only trek I made to an important locale in baseball history. I also visited the Elysian Fields, the often credited, yet debated site of the first ever organized baseball game.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Elysian Fields, and who hate Wikipedia, allow me to briefly introduce them. The first organized baseball game is said to have taken place there around 1845, and by organized I mean it included ‘official’ teams, not just a bunch of beer drinking bums from the neighborhood looking to blow off steam on a Sunday afternoon before going back to their jobs as meat packers.

The first team believed to use the fields was the New York Knickerbockers. (That’s right – the same name of the current basketball team. I guess New Yorkers aren’t that creative when naming their sports teams.) Not long after the Knickerbockers moved in, some other teams joined them and they formed, for all intents and purposes, a league, one not nearly the size of what we have today in MLB, but enough of one that they felt they could hold a tournament. So they did, and it was successful, meaning a lot of people showed up to watch it. And the following year it grew, as it did again the next year and the next. By 1865, there were an estimated 20,000 people in attendance for the championship game. Not bad for 1865.

After that it seems that New York City proper caught on to the popularity of baseball and built some parks over on their side of the Hudson, and apparently the young baseball fans were more than willing to change locations, as they then stayed mainly in their own boroughs to watch baseball. I guess New Yorkers are opposed to entering New Jersey or something. Anyway, by 1873, the Elysian Fields were done. They didn’t hold anymore official games after that.

Sadly, over time the Fields were developed into commercial and residential real estate. Today only a plague remains to mark the sport where they once were and that is what I journeyed too.

Only I did not know all of this, particularly the part about it being developed and built over, when the friend that I was staying with suggested we go. He said casually one night when we were talking about baseball that Elysian Fields was only a few blocks away. I was overjoyed, and he offered to show me where.

The next weekend we got in his car to drive over to what I was expecting, in all honesty, to be an old field that was being preserved for historical purposes. But when we got there, we literally turned the corner while still in the car, and he goes: ‘There it is.’ I was like, ‘There is what?’ ‘There’s Elysian Fields. That plague there in the middle of the road. That’s were the Elysian Fields were.’ We didn’t even stop. We just drove past. He did at least slow down so I could get a good look at it, but that was it. My trip to Elysian Fields lasted all of five seconds.

I remember I put on a brave face and said something like ‘Wow’ or ‘Neat,’ but in reality I was pretty disappointed. How could they build over the birthplace of baseball, our national pastime? But then I read more about the history of the place and realized at the time they had no idea what they were bulldozing. How could they know that in few decades across the Hudson mammoth cathedrals to baseball would be built? Had they known that, I imagine they’d have preserved them. However, at the time it was probably just too good of land to sit there empty.

I still can’t help but laugh a little at myself. I really was expecting some grand thing, and we literally drove by it in a flash. ‘There it is.’ Needless to say, no trumpets sounded. No single shaft of light shown down upon tat holy plague. Nope, it’s just a standard size bronze square mounted on some type of rock rooted to a median in the middle of a road.

But that’s ok. Even if the Fields are buried under ages of concrete, it’s still the place where it all started, that championship game where players showed the world baseball was a sport worth watching, and for that I have to be thankful to that plague. It may not seem like much, but it’s no doubt important. Because of what happened on those fields, hundreds of millions of lives – and I don’t think I’m exaggerating – over time have been influenced by this sport.

So it may not be Yankee Stadium in terms of its pomp and circumstance and well-manicured lawn, but it’s as equally important when you’re considering the history of the game. What Elysian Fields started, Yankee Stadium continued. Definitely worth the five seconds it took to drive by.